Concerns around safeguarding surfaced recently after it was revealed that someone who had served 15 months in prison for possessing images of child sex abuse was appointed Chair of Pride in Wiltshire. Swindon and Wiltshire Pride, a registered charity, has been criticised by the Charity Commission, and asked to re-evaluate their safeguarding and recruitment policies.
The individual concerned was jailed in Australia for 15 months in 2014, and after serving his sentence moved to the UK. In 2017, he took up a position with Wiltshire Pride and served as Chair on its committee for five months. On becoming aware of the individual’s convictions, the organisation reported to the Charity Commission, who then issued advice on safeguarding, and volunteer checks.
DBS Checks in the Charity Sector
Cases like the one in Swindon highlight why many charities run disclosure checks on their key members of staff and volunteers. The adverse publicity for the organisation could easily have been avoided, had the committee or trustees of Pride done some background checking on their volunteers.
In this case, there were some complicating factors which made checking trickier. Firstly, the crimes were not committed in the UK, but overseas. Running a DBS check, even at enhanced level, on an individual in the UK will only ever flag up convictions, arrests and cautions in the UK. In order to find out about overseas convictions, the charity or employer would have to ask the applicant to complete a similar check from the other countries concerned. All of this is very time consuming, and expensive, but charities are increasingly feeling that they cannot opt out of the system.
Anyone who has been involved in the charity sector knows how difficult it is to get volunteers, and the temptation can be to welcome anyone who walks through the door with open arms. However, the desperation for new help should never override the need to make sure the people are suitable for the position. Most voluntary organisations will ask applicants to complete a form and attend an interview, as with any other type of paid employment. Many will carry out Right to Work checks, to make sure their volunteers have the right to live and work in the UK. Charities in general are welcoming and inclusive, and would not wish to exclude all people who have a criminal record. For this reason, DBS checks are usually only for people in key positions, such as the manager in a charity shop, or the board of trustees of a smaller charity.
Although a DBS certificate in the Wiltshire case would not have highlighted the offences, it should be standard practice going forward for people at senior levels in charities. DBS checks for volunteers are in most cases processed free of charge. Charities are not restricted to working with people whose DBS checks are “clear” or which show now convictions at all. Charities should look at any information which has been disclosed, and weigh that up against the type of role, and the potential risk to any members of the public.